The Athleisure Trend is Growing While Fashion Flatlines

Posted by
Cyndy Willis-Chun on 2/18/20 4:00 AM

Whether you rock yoga pants 24/7 or you prefer a little more structure to your outfits, one thing is for certain: athleisure is a trend that Apparel/Fashion simply can’t ignore.

Valued at $167 billion, the category is a major player, and not just for the hoodie-and-sneaker set. We examined 3.4 million consumer conversations over the last two years to discover how the trend is faring, which brands stand to benefit if it continues to rise, and what consumers are looking for in athleisure.

 

Athleisure: Not Just a Fashion Fad

While it’s tempting to assume that yoga pants ushered in the era of athleisure, its roots are more than a century old. Instead of fading out, athleisure has changed over the decades, shifting from tennis shoes and polo shirts to luxe sneakers and gorpcore.

That makes athleisure a macro-trend: A trend that persists for an extended period but that continually evolves and shifts. That means it manifests differently both over time and in different categories (like outerwear versus footwear).

What should make today’s apparel brands sit up and take notice is athleisure’s newfound dominance in the fashion space. Over the last two years, the volume of consumer social media conversations about athleisure has more or less kept pace with overall Apparel/Fashion conversations. But over the last two quarters we've seen consumer interest in athleisure accelerate: 

Athleisure is Outpacing Apparel as a Whole on Social Media

In the last six months, consumer interest in athleisure has taken off, with athleisure conversations outpacing Apparel/Fashion in general. Data Source: Social Standards Market Insights - US, Jan 2018–Jan 2020.

 

That skyrocketing red line represents 40% growth in Apparel/Fashion conversations about athleisure over the last two years, suggesting that far from losing interest in this long-standing trend, consumers are becoming all the more excited about comfortable clothing that’s perfect for working out, relaxing over Sunday brunch, or binge watching Netflix’s latest release.

 

Brands Making it Big in Athleisure

While plenty of brands are associated with athleisure, smaller upstarts—not established athletic brands—are gaining the most interest among consumers.

Upstart Athleisure Brands are on the Ascent

Consumers are increasingly interested in upstart athleisure brands. Data Source: Social Standards Market Insights - Global, Jan 2020; bubble size represents posts per day.

 

The x-axis shows year-over-year growth in the topic’s share of Apparel/Fashion conversations, while the y-axis indicates the strength of connection each brand has with the category.

Victoria’s Secret, Adidas, Under Armour, and Gap are all losing share of voice in Apparel/Fashion, while athleisure-centric upstarts like Zyia Active, Carbon 38, Outdoor Voices, and Alo Yoga are giving consumers something to talk about.

However it’s no wonder we’re seeing impressive growth from smaller brands. Adidas and Nike have significantly more conversation volume than brands like Alo Yoga. For them to achieve 50% growth—putting them on par with Fabletics—they’d need to be mentioned in 10 to 20 thousand additional consumer conversations year-over-year.

If the athleisure macro-trend continues, it’s likely we’ll see even more companies attempting to capitalize on its popularity...and even more consumer excitement about those brands.

 

Who's Driving the Trend?

Once we got clear on which brands are major players, we investigated which consumers are most involved in the athleisure trend. To find out, we examined the demographic breakdown of each of the brands on our list. We discovered that athleisure appeals across regions, income, ethnicity, and age groups, but gender is more complicated.

SocialStandards-Atheisure-Data-03

Under Armour, Nike, and Adidas all skew male, with less than 15% of Apparel/Fashion topics coming up more often in men’s conversations. In contrast, Athleta, Carbon 38, Fabletics, and Zyia Active all skew female. Data Source: Social Standards Market Insights - Global, Jan 2020.

 

It’s probably not surprising that traditional athletic brands like Nike and Adidas skew male or that women-centric upstarts like Fabletics and Athleta skew female. For the most part, the gender breakdown for these brands has held remarkably steady over the last two years, indicating that they’ve found their niche but aren’t converting new audiences. That’s despite attempts by brands like Lululemon to expand its consumer base, a strategy that isn’t (yet) showing an impact on social media.

The only two brands that have seen significant shifts in terms of their gender breakdown are Carbon 38 and Outdoor Voices. While both brands have always under-indexed with men, that skew has become even more pronounced over the last two years.

Relatively static gender skew indicates that UA, Nike, and Adidas have a lock on the men’s athleisure market. Brands looking to court this consumer segment will have to woo men away from those massive players to gain meaningful traction.

 

Athleisure & Changing Consumer Needs

Just as styles change, what consumers want from athleisure apparel is a moving target. We analyzed consumer conversations on social media to discover how consumer needs and interests are shifting.

Qualities Consumers Want in Athleisure Apparel

Consumer needs around athleisure are changing: with (street) style falling out of favor and comfort taking a more prominent position in their minds. Data Source: Social Standards Market Insights - Global, Jan 2020; bubble size represents posts per day.

 

The x-axis shows year-over-year growth in the topic’s share of athleisure conversations, revealing consumers’ interest in the topic over time. For example, price is a growing concern for consumers, while street style is being mentioned less often in their conversations.

The y-axis indicates the importance of each topic’s relationship to athleisure using a percentile measure to enable easy comparison. While all of these topics over-index with athleisure—that is, are more significant to athleisure than the average Apparel/Fashion topic—comfort is extremely important to athleisure while price is (currently) the least important of these topics.

Overall, this data indicates that consumers may be shifting away from athleisure as a stylistic choice—hence the decline in athleisure conversations mentioning chic, urban, and street style—and toward athleisure for comfort and performance (athletic, comfortable, knit).

Topics like confidence and body positivity are becoming more frequently mentioned in athleisure conversations. Brands may want to leverage those concepts to connect with consumers and get ahead of shifts in the athleisure macro-trend.

Finally, note that mentions of inspiration are on the decline, but there’s roughly equivalent growth in mentions of athletic topics. That could indicate that consumers are interested in athleisure for fitness, but may be experiencing fitspiration—or dare we suggest, influencer?—fatigue.

 

Takeaways

Athleisure isn’t just a fashion fad, it’s a trend that’s continually shifting. By aligning themselves with the trend, brands may be able to protect or grow their share of voice, capitalizing on consumer interest in comfy clothing that transcends boundaries.

Small brands are gaining serious traction in the athleisure market. However male consumers haven’t yet moved away from Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour, despite other brands’ attempts to woo that segment.

Regardless of what consumer base they’re looking to convert, understanding what consumers want from athleisure is crucial to apparel brands’ success. Track suits and sweat bands may have been big business in the ‘70s, but today’s athleisure buyers are looking for a mix of comfort and confidence. Developing products and messaging that speak to those needs will help brands differentiate themselves within a crowded market.

 

Curious about how other macro-trends are manifesting in fashion? Check out our blog post on the rise of eco-friendly apparel to find out what consumers want from sustainable apparel and which consumers segments are driving the trend!

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Topics: social analytics, social data, consumer analytics, apparel/fashion, market insights

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